i. All Non-Muslims are Condemned Kāfirs


It is generally thought that all non-Muslims are kāfirs who are worthy of the condemnation and punishment referred to by the Qur’ān.[1]This view is not correct. A non-Muslim becomes such a kāfir when he denies the truth in spite of being convinced that it is the truth. Since it is humanly impossible for a person to determine whether a person is denying the truth or not, it is only on the basis of information provided by the Almighty that a person can be called such a kāfir. In the times when He sent His messengers (rusul), He chose to impart this information to His messengers through wahī; however, after the departure of the last rasūl Muhammad (sws), people who have deliberately denied the truth cannot be pinpointed since the institution of wahī has been terminated. No Muslim preacher is in a position to reveal the truth in a manner a rasūl is able to, nor can he ascertain who among his addressees is guilty of deliberately denying the truth. After the departure of Muhammad (sws), the last of the Messengers of God, only on the Day of Judgement will it now be known whether a particular person is such a kāfir or not.

It is evident from this explanation that the Christians and Jews and followers of other religions in times after the Prophet (sws) are not the kāfirs who are condemned by the Qur’ān. As far as Christians are concerned, it must be noted that they are basically followers of monotheism. They never admit to polytheism, though they are involved in certain polytheistic practices. A person becomes a polytheist when he openly admits that he is a polytheist. A person who claims to be a monotheist in spite of being involved in polytheistic practices, cannot be regarded as a polytheist. The reason is that a person might be doing something wrong without realizing what he is doing; all Christians whether of today or from the period of Jesus (sws) never admit to polytheism; trinity to them is in accordance with monotheism. Of course Muslims do not agree with them but unless they claim polytheism, it can only be said that in spite of claiming to be monotheists they are involved in polytheism. Their case is the case of a Muslim who goes to the grave of a saint to ask him to grant a wish; such a Muslim cannot be called polytheist; he shall be told that what he is doing is something which is against monotheism to which he himself strongly claims adherence. Similarly, Christians cannot be called polytheists; however, they will be told that what they are doing is not in accordance with monotheism.

It is precisely for this reason that the Qur’ān never referred to the People of the Book as polytheists though they were incriminated with certain blatant forms of polytheism. The Qur’ān only called the Ishmaelites as polytheists because they admittedly subscribed and testified to the creed of polytheism. They strongly advocated that polytheism was the very religion the Almighty had revealed and claimed that they were the strong adherents to this religion.



ii. Prohibition of Friendship with Non-Muslims


On the basis of the following verse of the Qur’ān, some Muslim scholars[2] are of the view that Muslims should never make friends with non-Muslims; in fact, they should show hostility and venom towards them:


لَا يَتَّخِذْ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الْكَافِرِينَ أَوْلِيَاءَ مِنْ دُونِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ (3:28)

Believers should not make friends with the al-kāfirīn leaving aside the believers. (3:28)


Similar verses read:


يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا الْكَافِرِينَ أَوْلِيَاءَ مِنْ دُونِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَتُرِيدُونَ أَنْ تَجْعَلُوا لِلَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ سُلْطَانًا مُبِينًا (4 :144)

Believers! Do not make friends with the al-kāfirīn leaving aside the believers. Do you wish to offer God an open argument against yourselves? (4:144)


يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا الْيَهُودَ وَالنَّصَارَى أَوْلِيَاءَ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ وَمَنْ يَتَوَلَّهُمْ مِنْكُمْ فَإِنَّهُ مِنْهُمْ (5 :51)

Believers! Take not these Jews and the Christians for your friends. They are but friends to each other. And he amongst you who turns to them [for friendship] is of them. (5:51)


A deliberation at the context of these verses, will show that, in principle, they are related to the divine practice mentioned in the Qur’ān[3]according to which the direct addressees of a messenger of God are punished if they knowingly deny the truth delivered to them by the messenger. These verses specifically deal with the deliberate denial of Muhammad’s addressees. This deliberate denial is referred to in the Qur’ān in the following way:


وَدَّ كَثِيرٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ لَوْ يَرُدُّونَكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ إِيمَانِكُمْ كُفَّارًا حَسَدًا مِنْ عِنْدِ أَنفُسِهِمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ الْحَقُّ (2 :109)

Many of the people of the Book wish that if they could turn you away as disbelievers after you have believed out of envy from their own selves even after the truth has become manifest to them. (2:109)


فَلَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ مَا عَرَفُوا كَفَرُوا بِهِ فَلَعْنَةُ اللَّهِ  عَلَى الْكَافِرِين(2:89)

When there came to them that which they recognized, they disbelieved in it. So let the curse of Allah be on the disbelievers. (2:89)


A little deliberation on the context of the prohibition of friendship verses quoted above shows that they were revealed in Madīnah in that phase of the Prophetic mission in which the Muslims were being told to separate themselves as a collectivity from the non-Muslims. This was because the latter could be identified as a collectivity that was soon to be visited by divine punishment if they continued to deliberately deny the truth. In other words, these verses relate to non-Muslims of the times of the Prophet (sws) who had denied the truth even though they were convinced of it. This is evident from the context in which the article alif lām (al) on al-kāfirīn (these disbelievers), on al-yahūd (these Jews) and on al-nāsārā (these Christians) refers to a specific category of non-Muslims: they were the direct and immediate addressees of the Prophet (sws) who had intentionally denied the truth communicated to them by him. Consequently, none of these verses relates to the non-Muslims of today.


iii. Prohibition of asking for Forgiveness for Non-Muslims

A common perception among Muslims is that the following verse of the Qur’ān has stopped them from asking the Almighty for forgiveness of non-Muslims:


مَا كَانَ لِلنَّبِيِّ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَنْ يَسْتَغْفِرُوا لِلْمُشْرِكِينَ وَلَوْ كَانُوا أُوْلِي قُرْبَى مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُمْ أَصْحَابُ الْجَحِيمِ (9 :113)

It is not proper for the Prophet and those who believe to ask Allah’s forgiveness for the mushrikūn, even though they be of kin, after it has become clear to them that they are the dwellers of the Fire. (9:113)


It is evident from the underlined portion of the verse itself that the Idolaters of Arabia of the Prophet’s times were condemned to Hell because of their persistence in denying the truth in spite of being convinced about it. It was such people about whom, the Prophet (sws) and the Muslims were stopped from praying and asking forgiveness. After the departure of the Prophet (sws), this intentional denial cannot be known since it could only have been known through divine revelation. Hence, this verse does not relate to non-Muslims of times after the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta).



iv. Prohibition of Inheritance between

Muslims and Non-Muslims


On the basis of the following narrative, there are scholars who are of the view that Muslims and Non-Muslims cannot mutually inherit from one another:[4]


عن أُسَامَةَ بن زَيْدٍ رضي الله عنهما أَنَّ النبي  صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ لَا يَرِثُ الْمُسْلِمُ الْكَافِرَ وَلَا الْكَافِرُ الْمُسْلِمَ

Usāmah ibn Zayd reported that the Prophet said: “A Muslim cannot be an heir to adisbeliever nor can a disbeliever be a Muslim’s.”[5]


Today with numerous conversions taking place all over the world, this issue has become very relevant as often a family ends up in a situation in which one blood relative has entered the folds of Islam.

In order to understand a Hadīth, it is imperative to relate it to its basis in the Qur’ān, for a Hadīth cannot give an independent directive. The Qur’ān mentions a divine practice as per which people who deliberately deny messengers of God are punished in various degrees. A little deliberation shows that this Hadīth relates to this divine practice and cannot be extended to general application. Thus the article alif lām appended to the word al-kāfir refers to the disbelievers of the times of Muhammad (sws) who had deliberately denied the truth.[6] Giving due consideration to this, an accurate translation of this word would be “such a Disbeliever”.Now, according to the Qur’ān (4:12), the basis of inheritance between relatives is “benefit of kinship”. If a lack of this benefit is diagnosed in some relations, then the matter of inheritance will be severed between them. After a deliberate denial of the truth by the Quraysh and the People of the Book, this “benefit of kinship” no longer existed between them and the Muslims. Hence, they could not inherit from one another.

In other words, this directive is only related to the direct addressees of the Prophet (sws), and has no bearing on later non-Muslims.




v. Non-Muslims Necessarily Doomed in the Hereafter


It is generally held that all non-Muslims will necessarily go to Hell. Verses like the following usually form the basis of this view:


إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَـابِ وَالْمُشْرِكِينَ فِى نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ خَـالِدِينَ فِيهَآ أَوْلَـئِكَ هُمْ شَرُّ الْبَرِيَّةِ (98 :6)

These disbelievers among the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] and the Idolaters shall burn for ever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures. (98:6)[7]


It must be appreciated that these verses speak of the Jews and Christians and the Idolaters of the Prophet Muhammad’s (sws) times, who had deliberately denied the message of Muhammad (sws). As far as the non-Muslims of later times are concerned, they will meet this fate only if they are not sincere seekers of the truth and also deny the messengerhood of Muhammad (sws) in spite of being convinced about its veracity.